May 20, 2020

Census count is underway amid big challenges

Census count is underway amid big challenges
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By Hailey Leek

The 2020 U.S. Census, which counts our population every ten years, kicked off during a pandemic and an earthquake here in Salt Lake City.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, community organizers had planned to be making the transition in April from online to offline outreach, and be meeting people where they’re at – grocery stores, public libraries, houses of worship, picking their kids up from school or neighborhood gatherings – to help them fill out the census.

Unfortunately, the type of in-person outreach that would boost census participation for low-income households, immigrants, seniors and people experiencing homelessness has either been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic.

The data collected through the census brings more than $5.6 billion dollars to Utah to pay for programs like Medicaid, Free and Reduced School Lunch and Pell Grants for college students. And it helps federal agencies monitor compliance with anti-discrimination laws, including the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Right Act.

The census count also determines school district, congressional and state legislature boundaries. Increases in the population give our state additional congressional representatives. For example, in the 2000 census, Utah lost the opportunity of receiving a fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by 856 people. Utahns had to wait for another ten years to get an additional seat, after the 2010 count.

An inclusive and accurate census is even more important in the wake of COVID-19. Data collected from the census supports emergency response and preparedness by helping us understand our growing and aging population, and it can increase funding and access to health clinics.

For the first time in history, the census questionnaire may be completed online or by phone, in addition to the traditional method of returning the paper questionnaire some households received in the mail.

Census organizers are urging everyone living in the United States to complete the 2020 Census as soon as possible, if they haven’t done so already. As of today, 62.2 percent of Salt Lake City residents have completed the survey. The majority of these responses were done online. You can track your community’s response rate here.

The Census Bureau, along with Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and other organizations, have had to adjust their outreach efforts to follow the guidance of health authorities. As it stands, the safest way for people to respond to the 2020 census is either online, by phone or by mail.

To complete the census online, go to my2020census.gov. To complete by phone, with access to support in different languages, visit 2020census.gov.

Online response options work for the majority of Salt Lake City residents. However, households who don’t speak English, or who have limited access to or knowledge of the internet or digital devices, have the potential of being excluded from the census.

Since census data is used to determine how much funding each state, city and county receives from the federal government, the digital divide has the potential of costing Salt Lake City millions of dollars. Every community member not counted reflects a loss of $1,860 per person or $18,600 over the next 10 years.

Even under the best of circumstances, census participation for historically marginalized communities has been low. Salt Lake City’s census participation rate in 2010 was 68.9 percent, which means over a quarter of our city’s population didn’t participate, and thereby lost out on thousands of dollars of funding and political representation.

2020 Census organizers are hoping to increase the participation rates from 2010. By completing the census and encouraging your family, friends and neighbors to do the same, you are ensuring that your community is supported and has access to critical resources over the next decade.

 Reminders:

  • There is NO citizenship question on the 2020 census.
  • If you’re able to complete the census online but don’t have your ID number, you can still participate! Go to my 2020 census.gov, select the link under the login button that says, “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.”
  • Only one person from each household needs to fill out the questionnaire, but should count every person who was living or staying in their household as of April 1, including babies and non-relatives.

For more information visit slc.gov/census or 2020census.gov.

Hailey Leek is the Census Coordinator for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office.

 

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